Baffling Brilliance: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

October 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

I gave Blimp another shot tonight! My 2nd film of the PnP festival in Stockholm. I left disorientated as usual. This is an almost 3-hour story of a career soldier, which eschews all scenes of violence. A career soldier who is foolishly and dangerously innocent but with such a capacity for love that he must see the image of the love he had let leave again and again in other women.

What is Clive doing during the middle of the film: the WW1 section? Delivering a message?

t seems to me to be a flimsy device to show him as getting another chance to capture the image which haunts him. I can understand, though, that it’s a brilliant idea, in that as it is his memory, he picks out what matters to him — the end of the war moments and seeing her image again — while the rest fades to unimportance. I like the thought that she didn’t, in fact, look as we see her because Candy’s memory has made her an exact copy of Edith rather than a likeness. Then there’s Murdoch’s remark too: “She must be a very common looking girl”. You imagine how pervasive is the hold on him of the loss of Edith, that he has been struck again and again in different places by likenesses of her. I think it’s the sudden shift into a stronger sense of unreality (unreliable memoir) that throws me, in the unreal-looking, bombed-out set where Candy and Murdoch are alone as the war ends and the skylark sings on queue, causing them to raise their heads in the necessary artificial looking pose to listen.

The era of the “second Edith” ends with a brilliant piece of writing which struck home with me for the first time this evening. Candy starts humming the tune from 1902 and his meeting with Edith, and his wife, who represents her to him, stops him from doing it. It’s a wonderful way of showing that although he believes he now has what he’s been searching for, the woman who is his wife has nothing whatever to do with that fateful time in Berlin and there is no connection at all.

I’m sure it’s just me, but the Boer War-era sequence seems overwritten, the only occasion when considering their ’40′s output that I would say this. But probably the seeming excess of talk, plus the pace and the farce all reflects their youth. The rule book sequence slows the film down again, and it and the fencing introduction seem like a perfect miniature within the film. Certainly my preference, though, is for the superb last section, during WW2. I’m mad about Anton Wallbrook as Lermantov, but believe Roger Livesey’s performance as the old man outstrips his in Blimp. There’s always praise for Wallbrook’s speech as a refugee, but Livesey’s “I never got over it” I think is as good or better. The whole of this final section is amazingly good and is carried to a great extent by Livesey’s performance. Deborah Kerr’s Johnny is also excellent. Her three characters do have distinct personalities though their strong-mindedness makes them appear similar.

I really should rank Blimp up there with The Red Shoes, A Canterbury Tale, A Matter of Life and Death, Peeping Tom, Small Back Room and Black Narcissus. At every screening of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I see something else great about it, and one day may appreciate the farce, changes of pace, plus the artificiality of the middle, really to get to like it, and rather than keep getting thrown off the scent!


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